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White men leading in Dem polls raises issue of double standard

Less than a year after women altered the political landscape and helped win back the House, some Democrats are voicing disappointment that presidential bids launched by women haven’t completely taken off.

Six Democratic women are running for president in a dramatic increase from previous years. But just one, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKamala Harris calls nurse on Thanksgiving to express gratitude in fight against COVID-19 Trump campaign loses appeal over Pennsylvania race The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Calif.), is in the top tier of the 18 candidates in the race.

And Harris is just outside the very top tier of the race, according to polls that consistently show former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE, who has yet to enter the contest, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere MORE (I-Vt.) at the very top of the pyramid.

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Harris, who raised more than $12 million in the first quarter, does appear to be clearly in the top four of the emerging race, along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

But that means three of the top four candidates in most polls are white men, leaving a number of other high-profile women candidates behind.

“A few months ago, I imagined the top tier looking very different, especially after the 2018 midterm wins and the ‘Me Too’ movement,” one female Democratic strategist said. “It’s still early, but it is a little frustrating.”

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks MORE (Mass.) Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' Ocasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' MORE (N.Y.) have not been as competitive in the polls or in fundraising thus far in the race. Neither has Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSix people whose election wins made history Next Congress expected to have record diversity Native Americans elected to Congress in record numbers this year MORE (D-Hawaii) or author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson discusses America's "soulless ethos" Marianne Williamson discusses speaking at People's Party Convention Fewer people watched opening night of Democratic convention compared to 2016 MORE.

Warren, who last year was widely seen as a potential front-runner, announced Wednesday that her campaign had raised $6 million in the first quarter — less than Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' Biden's win is not a policy mandate — he should govern accordingly MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg was a political unknown months ago, and is another white man who appears close to breaking into the top tier of candidates.

Democratic strategist Jim Manley counts himself as surprised and cautions that much could change in the coming months. At the same time, he said “the reality is a lot of these women aren’t seeing much traction right now.”

Manley said he has been particularly impressed by Warren and the nuanced policy proposals she has put forth. 

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“She’s breaking a lot of ground with solid policy proposals and she isn’t getting a lot of traction out of it, but it is still early,” he said.

Some political strategists argue that female candidates such as Warren are being hurt by a political double standard that treats men and women differently.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is despite gains that women have made, they’re still dealing with a lot of latent sexism and double standards both from how voters perceive them and how they’re covered,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “When one of the male candidates does something intellectual they are smart and new, but when one of the female candidates [talks about their policies], they’re too bland or wonky to connect with voters.”

A study by Northwestern University out late last month showed that female candidates in 2020 “are consistently being described in the media more negatively than their male counterparts.”

The study, which examined 130 news articles from mainstream media outlets, concluded it’s a “disconcerting trend” in 2020 election coverage.

Each of the women running for president has been mired in mini-controversies, some of which have drawn accusations of sexism.

Klobuchar faced a rash of negative headlines after former aides accused her of being a mean-spirited boss — something her defenders said would not have been an issue with a male boss.

Warren has had to deal with the fallout of her release of DNA testing to back her claims of Native American ancestry. Gillibrand has had to deal with brushback from Democrats who accused her of leading the charge in former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation.

“I am certainly concerned with the way that the media has been covering the women candidates versus the male candidates,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonValadao unseats Cox in election rematch Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The press seems to spend time on the idiosyncrasies around the male candidates that they find charming but they don’t provide parallel coverage when it comes to females.”

“There’s so much focus on jumping on tables and an endearing Brooklyn accent and another candidate’s avuncular style of campaigning versus Elizabeth Warren’s policy chops and Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor. There’s definitely a double standard,” Petkanas added. 

Some observers also wonder if the polls are reflecting anxiety among Democrats over nominating a woman the cycle after Clinton’s loss to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE.

“I hate to say it, but as 2016 showed us, misogyny is alive and well,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies.

“For some reason, when some people think of a president, they still think of a white male,” Jellison added. “It’s an image they carry around in their conscious or even subconscious mind.”

Petkanas said the race is still young. He said he expects the standings to look much different in the lead-up to the early state caucuses and primaries.

“Anyone who is counting out the women in this race has not learned any lesson from 2018,” he said